a fair where the art shines grandstanding not required

A Fair Where the Art Shines (Grandstanding Not Required)

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I have crossed over to the dark side: I now like art fairs better than biennials and large contemporary survey exhibitions. Technically, there is a lot of overlap, since biennials often involve covert gallery sponsorship and back-room wheeling and dealing. The noise of grandstanding politics, however, has all but overwhelmed the art in many recent survey exhibitions. A top-notch fair like the Art Show at the Park Avenue Armory, organized by the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) to benefit Henry Street Settlement, allows the art to shine.

The 34th edition of the fair, which celebrates the 60th anniversary of ADAA, features 78 galleries and several previously overlooked artists — particularly women and Black and Latinx artists. Coinciding with this, the comedian and actor Cheech Marin, who just opened the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture in Riverside, Calif., kicks off the fair’s series of talks on Thursday evening. Here are some other significant strains running through the fair.

Carved stone and bronze used to rule the sculptural realm; now, ceramics, once seen as mere “craft” rather than art, have taken over. At the entrance to the fair sit Toshiko Takaezu’s curvaceous forms, mostly from the 1990s, at James Cohan (Booth A1). Thrown on the wheel or molded into moon-shaped orbs, Takaezu’s glazes reflect both the painterly approach of her contemporaries, the Abstract Expressionists (she lived from 1922 to 2011), and the palette of her native Hawaii. Viola Frey’s wild sculpture “Untitled (Bricolage With Head on a Pedestal and Bunny),” from the mid-1980s at the Los Angeles gallery Gavlak (Booth B15), represents an entirely different, Pop Art approach to ceramics, with candy colors and references to mass culture and consumer objects. Another Los Angeles gallery, Shoshana Wayne (Booth A14), is presenting Anina Major’s sculptures made by weaving strips of stoneware, and Lucy Skaer at Peter Freeman (Booth C5) offers hilariously blunt rolls of clay that she calls “Kiln Sleepers.”

Paper is generally at the bottom of the two-dimensional art hierarchy, but the Art Show includes some stellar works on this surface. The Los Angeles artist Sarah Cain at Anthony Meier (Booth D2) can work at large scale — she created a 150-foot-long series of stained-glass windows at the San Francisco International Airport — but here she has painted with gouache, watercolor and acrylic on vintage musical scores. These are some of the most pleasing works in the fair. Similarly, A.R. Penck — pseudonym for the East German-born artist Ralf Winkler — made exuberant gouaches in the 1970s, which are on view at Michael Werner (Booth D9). Jay DeFeo’s moody tempera works on paper from the 1980s at Paula Cooper (Booth D10) offer a sharp contrast with “The Rose” (1958-66), her famous behemoth caked with so much paint it weighs nearly a ton. Shirley Jaffe’s colorful, largely abstract mixed-media paintings on paper at Tibor de Nagy (Booth A8) are another standout presentation.

New York is a painting town: home to the historical New York School of painting in the mid-20th-century and apartments that don’t accommodate sprawling installations. But the medium takes on many forms. Robert Kushner’s “Blue Flounce” (1975) at DC Moore (Booth D4) is a playful painting on polyester fabric that pushes back — hard — against the “heroic,” macho gestures or sublime color fields of the New York School. Gladys Nilsson at Garth Greenan (Booth C6) exhibited with the Hairy Who, a group of 1960s and ’70s Chicago artists inspired by humor and cartoons, and her densely packed works here reflect that. Geoffrey Holder at James Fuentes (Booth D7), curated by Hilton Als, offers a look at a Trinidadian-American dancer, actor and designer (among other things), who also painted sultry portraits. The New York dealer Mary-Anne Martin (Booth A25) has a wonderful roundup of 20th-century Mexican painting, including a quiet little Frida Kahlo still life, rendered on tin and featuring a prickly pear fruit, hung alongside works by José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and Alfredo Ramos Martínez.

More recent paintings are on view in other booths. Joanna Pousette-Dart offers elegantly shaped canvases with bold, flourishing marks at Philadelphia’s Locks Gallery (Booth C8), while Joe Fig at Cristin Tierney (Booth D14) offers jewel-like portraits of people looking at contemporary art in museums. Marcus Jahmal’s brand-new paintings at Anton Kern (Booth D12) are like sly updates of Philip Guston, providing a similar, sly social commentary and Ross Bleckner’s new canvases at Petzel (Booth A6), with ageless flowers hovering against stark black backgrounds, suggest a suspension of time in painting.

Finally, one of the standouts of the last edition of Greater New York at MoMA PS1 was Paulina Peavy (1901-1999), a spiritualist who treated painting as just another tool in her practice of seeking healing and enlightenment, after encountering a U.F.O. spirit called Lacamo at a 1932 séance. At Andrew Edlin (Booth C15), you can see some of her glorious, faceted abstractions, as well as three masks she made and she wore while painting, in an attempt to channel the teachings of Lacamo.

I could go on. Painting reigns at the moment, but the Los Angeles gallery Von Lintel (Booth C11) reminds us of photography’s relevance and range. Three female artists are shown here, Floris Neusüss and Christiane Feser, whose work is more abstract, and Joni Sternbach, who has photographed surfers around the world, using the antiquated tintype method. Castelli (Booth A4) is presenting a beautiful, art-historically significant show of three 1967 felt works by Robert Morris that stepped away from Minimalism and referred to the human body. And the irrepressible Yoko Ono appears at Galerie Lelong (Booth A27) in a solo exhibition called “The Bronze Age.” Ono is a fitting artist to end with since she spans different eras and art worlds and reminds us that art can exist anywhere, in any form. From protest to performance, all art will end up in an art fair, eventually.

The Art Show

Thursday through Sunday at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue, Manhattan. Admission: $30. Information: theartshow.org.